All families have stories to tell, regardless of their culture or their circumstances. When parents share family stories, their children benefit in many ways. They demonstrate better understanding of other people’s thoughts and emotions. And they more often have higher self-esteem, more robust identities, better coping skills, and lower rates of depression and anxiety.
In Psalm 78 the Israelites are reminded of lessons from their history so they could to tell the next generation about what God had done. The main historical event recalled is the exodus from Egypt (Ps. 78:13-13; 42-53).
Egypt reminds me of two great characters in the Old Testament. Joseph and Moses both rescued God’s people. Joseph rescued them from a famine and Moses rescued them from slavery. Joseph led them into Egypt and Moses led them out of Egypt.
The events in Egypt described in the Bible range from the safety of a refuge to the tyranny of slavery.
A refuge from danger
Famine was one of the dangers in the ancient world. Both Abraham and Jacob’s family (the Israelites) travelled to Egypt to avoid a famine (Gen. 12:10 – 13:1; 46:1-7). Although Abraham’s visit was short, the other visit was for about 400 years. The longer visit was enabled by Joseph who rose to a position equivalent to that of Governor or Prime Minister.
There are some similarities between the life of Joseph and the life of Jesus. They were both rejected and betrayed. But their suffering saved many (Gen. 50:20; Jn. 3:16). And they were about 30 years of age when Joseph was put in charge of Egypt and when Jesus began His ministry (Gen. 41:46; Lk. 3:23).
Others fled to Egypt to escape danger. Jeroboam fled to Egypt because Solomon wanted to kill him (1 Ki 11:40 – 12:2; 2 Chron. 10:2). After the invasion of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC, some Jews fled to Egypt (2 Ki. 25:25-26; Jer. 41:16-18) and later a group of Jews forced Jeremiah to go with them to Egypt (Jer. 43:6-7). And Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled to Egypt because Herod was killing all male Jewish infants. Joseph was divinely directed to take Mary and Joseph to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod (Mt. 2:13-20).
On these occasions Egypt was a safe refuge that people could run to for protection.
Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. But he rose to be second to the king and his family thrived in Egypt. Later they were subject to slavery when a new Pharaoh cruelly used them for slave labor. They were only delivered from this under the leadership of Moses after the miraculous ten plagues. The Bible says, “the Lord at one time delivered His people out of Egypt” (Jude 1:5NIV).
There are some similarities between the life of Moses and the life of Jesus. They both narrowly escaped being killed by a king who was murdering baby boys. They both performed miracles. They both led God’s people out of captivity, being from slavery to Egypt in the case of Moses and from slavery to sin in the case of Jesus. They both mediated a covenant between God and humanity. And the Bible says that Jesus is a prophet like Moses (Acts 3:22; 7:37).
The exodus was a great victory of the God of the Israelites over the gods of Egypt, which was to be remembered in the annual Passover Festival. After the exodus, Egypt came to represent all that is opposed to God. After the decline of Egypt, Assyria and Babylon become the main distant enemies of the Israelites.
On this occasion Egypt was an oppressive place of punishment that people wanted to run away from. But during the journey from Egypt to Canaan the Israelites were tempted to return to Egypt.
An idolatrous nation
The Egyptians worshipped many gods (polytheism). And their Pharaohs were considered to be divine. Whereas the Israelites worshipped the true God and they were forbidden to marry idolatrous and immoral foreigners because they would cause them to be unfaithful to God (Dt. 7:1-4; 1 Ki. 11:1-13; Ezra 9:1-2, 10-12, 14).
When Moses was on Mount Sinai during the exodus, the Israelites built a golden calf idol (Ex. 32). So they disobeyed God and worshipped Egyptian gods instead.
Later when Israel was settled in the promised land, King Solomon married an Egyptian princess and many other foreign women who turned him to idolatry. Because of this disobedience, God caused the nation to be divided into two kingdoms (1 Ki. 11:9-13).
And when Jeroboam returned from Egypt to establish the northern kingdom of Israel, he set up calf images in Dan and Bethel (1 Ki. 12:26-33). These may have been Egyptian gods (or those of the Canaanites). Jeroboam’s sin was idolatry (1 Ki. 14:9). And subsequent kings of Israel followed his wicked example. Finally, God allowed the kingdom of Israel to be invaded by the Assyrians because of their idolatry (2 Ki. 17:7-23).
Likewise, many of the kings of Judah also worshiped idols. And finally, God allowed the kingdom of Judah to be invaded by the Babylonians because of their idolatry (Jer. 44:1-6). When some of these Jews fled to Egypt they were warned of disaster because of their idolatry (Jer. 44:1-30).
So Egypt was one of the nations that influenced the Israelites to worship idols instead of the true God. This idolatry led to the downfall of the Jewish nation when they were driven from their lands just as they had driven the Canaanites from their lands 770-900 years earlier.
Lessons for us
What can we learn from the role of Egypt in the history of the Israelites? They lived under the old covenant of Moses, whereas Christians live under the new covenant of Jesus.
First, God cares for His people. As He cared physically for the Israelites, so He cares spiritually for those who trust in Him through Jesus today. Their salvation is assured.
Second, God is powerful. As miracles accompanied the Israelites deliverance from Egypt (ten plagues; crossing the Red Sea), so miracles accompanied Christ’s act of salvation (Christ’s resurrection) and will accompany Christians deliverance from the presence of sin (their resurrection).
Third, God’s people needed to obey Him in order to benefit from His care and power. Obedience leads to blessing. To be delivered from Egypt the Israelites needed to obey God’s instructions given by Moses. Likewise, to be delivered from sin, we need to accept God’s gift of salvation through Jesus. Have you done this?
Fourth, disobedience and idolatry (following something or someone else than the true God) leads to God’s judgment. God wants His people to be faithful. Are idols keeping you from living for Jesus?
What can we tell the next generation about what God has done for us? That’s the best kind of family stories to tell.
Egypt is mentioned in the Bible more times than any other place outside Canaan/Israel (in 673 verses of the ESV). Egypt and Israel shared a border in antiquity as they do today. And Goshen in Egypt is about 400km (250 miles) from Jerusalem. Egypt (Mitsrayim in Hebrew, Strongs #4714) is named after the grandson of Noah (son of Ham) who settled there after the global flood (Gen. 10:6).
Israel is located between the Nile river (to the southwest) and the Euphrates river (to the north east). Nations thrived in these fertile river valleys and they were great powers in the ancient world. And it’s not surprising that the inhabitants of Israel were influenced by superpowers such as the Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians.
Written, December 2017
Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Sodom
Massacres and miracles in Jericho
The word “caveman” usually means a prehistoric or primitive person who lives in caves. They are said to belong to an early stage of civilization (Paleolithic or Stone Age) and use stone, wood and bone tools. But what does the Bible say about people living in caves?
After the global flood, God told Noah’s descendants to spread out and “fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1). But they disobeyed and built a city called Babel with brick and tar on a plain that later become known as Mesopotamia (Gen, 11:1-4). Their punishment was to be divided into different language groups and scattered across the earth (Gen. 11:8-9). So these language groups migrated to different lands as described in Genesis 10. This means that according to the Bible, in about 2,200 BC people dispersed from the Middle East to populate the earth.
The Bible records people living in caves between the 6th and the 18th century BC. Let’s look at each of these in turn and see what they reveal about cavemen in Biblical times.
18th century BC
Abraham’s nephew Lot may have been a Councillor in the city of Sodom near the Dead Sea (Gen. 19:1). After Lot’s family fled from Sodom before it was destroyed, they stopped at the town of Zoar. But because he was afraid to stay in Zoar, Lot and his two daughters moved to live in a cave in the mountains (Gen. 19:30). It seems he was afraid that God was going to destroy Zoar as well and this seems to have happened as afterwards they thought they were the only people left on earth (Gen 19:31). So Lot and his daughters moved from living in a city to living in a cave in the mountains. They went from civilization to isolation.
Job, who lived in ancient times, said that those banished from human society lived “among the rocks and in holes in the ground” (Job 30:5-6).
15th century BC
While the Israelites were invading Canaan, the Gibeonites made a treaty with Israel. When five Amorite kings attacked the Gibeonites, the Lord helped the Israelites to take them by surprise and defeat them. But the kings fled and hid in the cave at Makkedah (Josh. 10:16-18). When Joshua found out where the kings were, he had the cave guarded until they could be executed. Afterwards, their bodies were thrown back into the cave. So the kings of the Canaanite cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon moved from living in a city to become fugitives hiding in a cave. They went from civilization to isolation.
12th century BC
When the Israelites “did evil in the eyes of the Lord”, God allowed them to be overpowered by the Midianites for seven years. “Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds” (Jud. 6:2NIV). So the Israelites, who lived in cities, prepared shelters for themselves in caves to hide from the enemy. They were ready to go from civilization to isolation.
After Samson took revenge by attacking the Philistines, he stayed in a cave in the rock of Elam (Jud. 15:8, 11). Then the Philistines came to Judah to kill Sampson. So Samson who usually lived in a town in Judah moved from living in a town to become a fugitive hiding in a cave.
11th century BC
While Saul was king of Israel, the Israelite army fled when they faced a superior Philistine army. “When the Israelites saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns” (1 Sam. 13:6). So an army moved from living in their camp to hiding in caves. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, dens were cut out of mountains and rocks to provide refuge and strength in times of war.
When David was a fugitive because Saul wanted to kill him, David often hid in caves. About 400 men were with him at the cave of Adullam (1 Sam. 22:1-2). They also hid in the cave near the Crags of the Wild Goats in the Desert of En Gedi where David spared Saul and cut off the corner of his robe (1 Sam. 24:1-11). He also hid in caves when being pursued by Absalom (2 Sam. 17:9). David was hiding in a cave when he wrote Psalms 57 and 142. At this time he feared his enemies. So David hid in caves to escape Saul’s murderous plans and to escape from other enemies.
9th century BC
While Queen Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets in two caves, fifty in each (1 Ki. 18:4, 13). So the prophets hid in caves to escape Jezebel’s murderous plans.
Also, when the prophet Elijah fled to Mt Sinai, he spent a night in a cave (1 Ki. 19:9, 13). Elijah would have slept in the cave for protection from the weather and from wild animals.
6th century BC
During times of severe oppression the Israelites took refuge in caves and holes in the ground. Some Israelites were in caves when the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem in 586 BC (Ezek. 33:27). They will also try to hide in these places from God’s future judgment (Is. 2:10, 19, 21).
When they are warned of a Babylonian invasion, the Moabites, Edomites and Arabians are urged to flee their towns and live in caves (Jer. 48:28; 49:8, 30).
In the list of those who demonstrated faith and endurance in Old Testament times in Hebrews 11, it says that they “wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground” (Heb. 11:38). They would have lived in caves because they were expelled from their families and from society. They went from civilization to isolation.
Finally, when God will judge the world in a coming day, people will panic and try to hide in caves and among the rocks of mountains (Rev. 6:15).
All these instances of people occupying caves in Biblical times occurred many years after the city of Babel. This means they are not steps in humanity’s progress towards urbanization. Instead they represent regression to a simpler lifestyle, not progression towards a more advanced lifestyle. These people already lived in cities and towns before they went to live in caves. The examples given above show that this move from civilization to isolation was driven by need.
Most of these people hid in caves to escape being captured by their enemies. In this case a cave is a refuge – it is strong being composed of rock and they are hidden from sight. After all, many old buildings were made of stone. The oldest buildings in Europe are stone.
Caves are also suitable for temporary accommodation while travelling. For example, they would be useful for people migrating from the Middle East to populate the earth in the 22nd century BC. Technological knowledge would have been lost when the people of Babel were subdivided into small language groups and dispersed across the earth.
Fugitives and migrants would tend to have basic tools with them and not the trappings of civilization. So artefacts found in caves would represent particular people in particular situations. They don’t necessarily represent the civilization living at the time in towns and cities. For example, the tools used by Australian Aboriginals in the 19th century AD didn’t represent those used at the same time by Australians of European descent.
The Bible shows that in Biblical times caves were mainly used to hide from enemies and as temporary accommodation while travelling. It doesn’t support the popular idea of Paleolithic (Stone Age) cave man because people were urbanized at the same time that people occupied caves.
Remember that the Bible is an important record of ancient history and such recorded history trumps archaeological science, particularly in the case of ancient history.
Written, January 2015